Hail is drumming on my tent as I am typing this. The wind is gusting through the pass like a series of freight trains behind schedule. The temperature is somewhere in the low thirties and is expected to keep dropping. Snow is predicted tonight.
And it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon.
Weather is always a big factor while hiking, and on extended backpacking trips, it takes on even more importance. Reports are often unreliable and change quickly on the mountains. Even the Appalachian Trail’s southernmost states experience rapid and drastic changes in temperature for much of the year. Only a few days ago, it was in the seventies and sunny.
It is always a difficult decision to either press on or wait out a storm. On one hand, the miles won’t hike themselves and a food ressuply may be 50 miles away. On the other, hiking in poor weather can be dangerous. The possibilities of slipping on the trail and hypothermia are very high in a snowstorm.
It’s down to each individual to decide if they feel comfortable hiking in the present conditions. Between the weather and leg pain I’ve been having, I didn’t think the terrain would be safe to cross. It is five and a half miles tof the site where I intended to camp, and while the terrain isn’t too strenuous, it includes a long downhill slope, the last of which I crossed caused me a lot of knee pain.
I’ve spent the afternoon stretching, reading and sleeping (and writing this post), with the hope that I’ll be able to make up the miles tomorrow.
Sleeping in these conditions also frightens some hikers. The temperature is expected to drop well below freezing tonight, and a cold tent or shelter could make for a poor night’s sleep, or worse. I’ve been comfortable this afternoon, and I’m thinking that between a warm dinner, a few layers of clothing and my 20 degree sleeping bag, I’ll be OK.
I did make one mistake, though. I set my tent up facing the wrong direction. Instead of hitting the vestibule of my tent, the wind blows right into the main wall, bowing it inwards. This reduces the amount of headroom in the tent and brings me closer to the condensation on the inside of the fabric. I don’t think this will be a safety concern, but it does make me think twice about sitting up in the tent.
Decisions about weather conditions should never be made lightly, but they should be made quickly. An hour spent deciding to set up camp could mean the difference between hiking in the snow or not, or getting to camp before dark.